Four Categories of Science

- By Stanton T. Friedman (Former Nuclear Physicist)-

Some people have insisted that if I can't provide a piece of a [flying] saucer or an alien body, there is nothing to support my claims. I was quite surprised during my last visit with Carl Sagan in December 1992, when he claimed that the essence of the scientific method was reproducibility. In actuality, as I wrote Sagan later on, there are at least four different kinds of science:

  1. 1. [Category-1 Science] Yes, there is a lot of excellent science done by people who set up an experiment in which they can control all the variables and equipment. They make measurements and then publish their results, after peer review, and describe their equipment, instruments, and activity in detail so that others can duplicate the work and, presumably, come to the same conclusions. Such science can be very satisfying, and certainly can contribute to the advancement of knowledge. However, it is not the only kind of science.
  2. [Category-2 Science] A second kind of science involves situations in which one cannot control all the variables, but can predict some. For example, I cannot prove that on occasion the moon comes directly between the sun and the Earth and casts a shadow of darkness on the Earth, because I cannot control the positions of the Earth, moon, or sun. What can be done is predicting the times when such eclipses will happen and being ready to make observations when they occur. Hopefully the weather where I have my instruments will allow me to make lots of measurements.
  3. [Category-3 Science] A third kind of science involves events that can neither be predicted nor controlled, but one can be ready to make measurements if something does happen. For example, an array of seismographs can be established to allow measurements to be made at several locations in the event of an earthquake. When I was at the University of Chicago, a block of nuclear emulsion was attached to a large balloon that would be released when a radiation detector indicated that a solar storm had occurred (something we could neither produce nor predict). Somebody would rush to Stagg Field and release the balloon. When the balloon was retrieved, the emulsion would be carefully examined to measure the number, direction, velocity, and mass characteristics of particles unleashed by the sun.
  4. [Category-4 Science] Finally, there is a fourth kind of science, still using the rules to attack difficult problems. These are the events that involve intelligence, such as airplane crashes, murders, rapes, and automobile accidents. We do not know when or where they will occur, but we do know they will. In a typical year more than 40,000 Americans will be killed in automobile accidents. We don't know where or when, so rarely are TV cameras whirling when these events take place. But we can, after the fact, collect and evaluate evidence. We can determine if the driver had high levels of alcohol in his or her blood, whether the brakes failed, whether the visibility was poor, where a skid started, and so on. Observations of strange phenomena in the sky come under this last category.

In all the category-4 events, we must obtain as much testimony from witnesses as possible. Some testimony is worth more than other testimony, perhaps because of the duration of observation, the nearness of the witnesses to the event, the specialized training of the observer, the availability of corroborative evidence such as videos and still photos, or the consistency of evidence when there is testimony from more than one witness. Our entire legal system is based on testimony — rarely is there conclusive proof such as DNA matching. Judges and juries must decide, with appropriate cross-examination, who is telling the truth. In some states, testimony from one witness can lead to the death penalty for the accused.

We should take note of the fact that even instrument data is dependent on testimony from the observer of the instruments, and on appropriate calibration and validation under standardized circumstances. Also, our courts place limits on requirements for testimony, such as that against one spouse by the other. Furthermore, there are rules about hearsay testimony, and rules regarding legal evidence are complex and detailed.

When it comes to flying saucers, we must remember that the reason most sightings can be determined to be relatively conventional phenomena, often seen under unusual circumstances, is that most people are relatively good observers. The problem comes with the interpretation of what was observed. People watching the sky late at night may get excited about a very bright light that moved very slowly. Checking on the position of the planets at that time may reveal that that light was Venus, because we have good information as to the angle of observation, the direction of the light from the observer, the relatively slow rate of motion, the location of Venus at that time, and so on. On three occasions, when living in Southern California, I was called by people who described an unusual object moving rapidly. I tried to make sure that I analyzed their observations, such as, what time was it? In what direction were you looking? In what direction did it seem to be moving? Was there any sound? What was its apparent size, say, as compared to the moon (just covered by an aspirin held at arm's length)?

Two of the people wanted to tell me that the object was just over the next hill. I stressed that this was an interpretation, because even huge objects far away can seem to be small objects nearby. In all three cases, I felt that what was being described sounded similar to a rocket launched down the California Coast when the sun had gone down, but while the object was high enough to still be in sunlight. I had seen such a spectacular case once myself. I checked, in all three cases, with Vandenberg Air Force Base, which launches many rockets down the U.S. West Coast. Indeed, there had been a launch at the right time in each case. One case was especially intriguing, because several witnesses were looking out across the ocean from a beach area and described the thing they saw as similar to a string of popcorn. It turned out to be the launch of a special weather satellite with extra solid boosters being dropped off multiple times.

The people were good observers. To say the least, it would be irrational to say that people are good observers when their input allows us to identify the object being observed, and yet poor observers if we can't identify the UFO as something conventional.

— Stanton T. Friedman (Nuclear Physicist)
Flying Saucers and Science
Subtitle — A Scientist Investigates the Mysteries of UFOs: Interstellar Travel, Crashes, and Government Cover-Ups
(Chapter 1 - "The Case for the ET Origin of Flying Saucers")
(Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books, 2008)

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